Check off another successful Born to Do Science event! Dr. Marianna Patrauchan spoke this evening about biofilms.
We kicked off the event with the debut performance of a new song called "Super Scientist." It's all about how much patience and persistence it takes to do the type of important research Dr. Patrauchan does. By the end of the song she was beaming! Watch for the song - I'll be posting it soon.
Then we talked about cystic fibrosis and how for some reason this usually harmless bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA), forms a deadly biofilm in lung tissue of CF patients. These bacteria are very common in humans, so what is it about CF that induces them to grow?
Dr. P's hypothesis is that it has something to do with the higher concentration of calcium ions present; these ions are a signal from the body to the immune system that something is wrong (CF!). The PA bacteria pick up on it and it signals them to form a biofilm.
It takes proteins to pick up a chemical signal and act on it (see this amazing film!), so Dr. P's research involves sorting through hundreds of candidate proteins to see which ones, if knocked out, could block this process from happening. For each candidate protein a mutant PA strain with the corresponding gene knocked out is created and tested, and each test takes about six months to complete!
When I interviewed her in preparation for her talk, she hadn't yet found the magic protein, however...
In a high point of the presentation she revealed a slide showing a dramatic difference between the wild PA and a particular mutant strain growing in the presence of calcium. A positive result! Go, super scientist, go!!
Now that we've identified it, we just need to figure out how to block that protein from doing it's job, and perhaps a drug can be developed that will prevent fatal PA infections in CF patients!
Dr. P shared a stack of nutrient plates with the kids. Each kid chose four sources of bacteria (they are everywhere - pencils, fingers, crumbs from the floor, etc.) and seeded and labeled their plates. Tomorrow, they'll be able to see bacteria growth!
Hey, if any of you are reading this - send me a photo of your results and I'll post them here!